Saturday, 27 February 2010


Lying back upon the spare bed this evening, this thought throttled my heart. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind...I know I have read and heard these words of St Paul's before, but tonight, after a day of rain and sun, they're flying home. Thank you, thank you Nina.

Sam Shepard, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1982

I used to bring Nina Simone ice. She was always nice to me. She used to call me "Daahling." I used to bring her a whole big gray plastic bus tray full of ice to cool her Scotch.

She'd peel off her blonde wig and throw it on the floor. Underneath, her real hair was short like a sheared black lamb. She'd peel off her eyelashes and paste them to the mirror. Her eyelids were thick and painted blue. They always reminded me of one of those Egyptian Queens like I'd seen in National Geographic. Her skin was shining wet. She'd wrap a blue towel around her neck then lean forward resting both elbows on her knees. The sweat rolled off her face and splashed on the red concrete floor between her feet.

She used to finish her set with the "Jenny the Pirate" song from Bertolt Brecht. She always sang that song with a deep penetrating vengeance as though she'd written the words herself. Her performance was aimed directly at the throat of a white audience. Then she'd aim for the heart. The she'd aim for head. She was a dead shot in those days.

The one song she sang that really killed me was, "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." It always froze me in my tracks. I'd be out on the floor collecting Whiskey Sour glasses and she'd start that rumbling landslide piano with her ghostly voice snaking through the accumulating chords. My eyes would go up to the bandstand and stay there while my hands kept on working.

I knocked over a candle once while she was singing that song. The hot wax spilled all over a businessman's suit. I was called into the manager's office. The businessman was standing there with this long splash of hardened wax down his pants. It looked like he'd come all over himself. I was fired that night.

On the street outside I could still hear voice coming right through the concrete walls:"You'd be Paradise to come home to."

San Francisco, Ca.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Seducing Down the Door

These ghosts he carries around with him, throughout his days. These little scenes, their details resonating, causing his pulse to tremble ever so slightly for moments at a time...

A boy in a red cardigan, sitting on an empty beach, reading. Wrapped up warm in a scarf, but with his shoes kicked off and a band-aid across his left foot.

The girl with the two suitcases, hopping off her train, embarrassed because she's been crying. Looking around for someone who isn't there. Her pocket stuffed with the letter she wrote on the way, but has yet to decide whether or not she will send. Her silver nail polish flaking badly.

The woman standing in her new empty bedroom, surrounded by unopened boxes, placing a vase on the windowsill. Standing there with a fruit salad, testing how her new sandals feel on the hardwood floors, letting the light dance upon her spoon.

The man sitting in a sun-soaked cafe in some a foreign city, his ten-year-old son beside him, the boy's arm draped over his sturdy shoulders. Just sitting together, breathing in unison. Waiting for the waitress, waiting also for the women to return from their shopping.

Where, he wonders, do such fleeting, pulsing images come from? Why do they haunt his soul?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


This video-story just restored my faith in people, I think:

If I was a TV producer with a big desk, I'd contract a show like this one in a heartbeat and put it on some major network every morning as an on-going series. Seriously. It would do people's souls a world of difference.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

I'm a Bluebird

I imagined this story once about a guy who was in a relationship with a woman he didn't really love, and who is suddenly mesmerized by this documentary he records on TV one night about Paul and Linda McCartney. He watches it over and over again, whenever he is alone and the flat was quiet: those images of that empty beach in Scotland in the 1970s, this family's brazen unfashionability, that sheep dog of theirs rollicking in the sand. Also the beautifully brisk and beautifully open atmosphere. (Everybody wrapped up in woolens.) Not so much Paul-and-Linda as celebrities, but just as images, dreamy phantoms that come to haunt this man, this character, day in, day out. And, ultimately, it ends up taking him six years to figure out why he's doing this, why he feels the need to keep watching...It would be a work of fiction, I told myself.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Notes on a Podcast

Well I did have a podcast up here. It was meant for listening to while walking the dog through the park, or sitting on the windowsill with a cigarette, or lying in the bath with a cup of tea, eating homemade sandwiches in a churchyard, or writing letters to your latest crush, or driving down along the coast in the afternoon. Packing your bags for the tenth time or going up on the roof again.

But then, on second thought, I thought I should probably just write about these things instead, rather than harrassing you with the music I like...I've left an autumnal, melancholy clip behind though, for anyone who's interested.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Reader Wooing

Painting Courtesy of Jesse L Smith at The Tate

When I was a girl, I used to pretend I was a leopard. My sister Samantha was a fox and my older sister, Simone, was a deer, but I was this lazy, hazy, dreamy leopard, always stretching out underneath tables, nesting behind the sofa, lounging all over the house.

It all started with these marks on my skin; I’ve always had them. Most of them are hidden beneath my clothes, but I know they’re there. I’m not sure when or how it occurred to me but at some point growing up, they became my leopard spots. They’re not birthmarks or moles really but somewhere in-between. Smooth, flattish blotches, chocolate in colour with maybe a reddish hue, the largest of them about the size of thumbprint. Whenever I glance at myself in the mirror from across the room, I think I look punched-through with holes, perforated. They’re all on my stomach and back mainly. Three just below my right breast, two on my left inner thigh. I couldn’t tell you where they came from, or whose genes are to blame, only that—from about the age of 6 until I was 10 or 11—those spots made me, secretly, a leopard. That was their only significance to me in childhood: I was a girl but I had proof I was a leopard too.

(It seems only natural for a child of my airy-fairy mindset to think leopard. But I do sometimes wonder why I didn’t choose something else, if life might have worked out differently had I just pretended to be a different sort of cat, like a cheetah.)

I used to pretend I wasn’t human at all but had been adopted by human parents, then scrubbed up and dressed in human clothes, and trained to eat human food, trained to act with manners that weren’t naturally mine, when all the while, I was really this lithe and rather fierce jungle cat. I was always trying on feline characteristics when no one was watching, cultivating them in secret. I would lay stretched out on the ground, licking my fingers or pawing playfully at the carpet. I prowled and I preened. I padded my way around the whole house, on all fours sometimes, trying to find a perfect spot of sunlight to curl up in. Then I began snoozing at odd hours—scrunched foetally into one nook or another—but always with that lively, playful, clear-minded sleep of a child that has done the impossible and put itself to bed.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Todos Las Almas

Forgotten Weekly Activities From Another Time
(Found in the opening pages of that little green notebook he still carries around with him in his breast pocket)

1.Tuesday=Lights Out Night (to coincide with No Internet Day)
2.Wednesday=No TV or DVD Night
3. Cooking Something New (no day specified)
4. Monday=Fix Something Day
5. Thursday=Storytelling Night
6. Tuesday=Learning a New Language Night

Shortly after which a new note, perhaps for the novel he was writing at the time, reads:

'At any moment, all would be different.'

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Friday Blues

One day he missed a train and he suddenly remembered the story she had told him about Howard Hodgkin: visting Hodgkin's studio, an interviewer once asked the artist if he ever got lonely there, in those stark sourroundings with only a skylight to give a sense of the world outside. Hodgkin coughed and replied something to the effect of, 'Godamn right, it's lonely. It's the loneliest place I know.'

He loved Hodgkin. He loved Hodgkin, first, because of the work and its thickly layered, hungry melancholy. How it always seemed to him brimming over with emotion and luminescent feeling--but he also loved Hodgkin because she was the one to first introduce him to it.

She was the one who had first walked him into New York gallery and said, wait here, stop, look. She was the first one who had waited. Who had taken her time, knowing more than he had. (Though she never would have admitted it. Not then.) She told him, later--much later--about that interviewer's visit to Hodgkin's studio. Then one night as they were lying together in the dark, the clapboard shutters drawn and the fire dying down, she told him that she had a theory. She told him how she thought that it was because Hodgkin--he remembered Hodgkin, didn't he?--could share his paintings that he kept going back to his lonely old studio. That it was possibly the fact that Hodgkin could wrangle something shareable from his loneliness that kept him working.

It was only now, as the rain danced over his face and he watched the departing train, that he understood what she had meant by this. And he wanted, somehow, suddenly to run back to that gallery where she had taken him those many years ago. To challenge his abject, uncertain, and lonely surroundings and steal back that moment from the past. He imagined himself doing it, his heart racing, his shoes getting soaked--running back into that gallery and taking it all back as easily as lifting a frame off the wall. Clutching it to his chest.

When were you happiest?

Drinking bloody marys in New York before an opening.

What is your greatest fear?

Being alone.

Where would you like to live?

London or New York.

When did you last cry, and why?

I cry all the time.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My work.

What keeps you awake at night?

My work.

How would you like to be remembered?

For my work.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Keep moving.

--Howard Hodkin in The Guardian 10/01/2009

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


This is my father when he was younger than I am now. In England, thinking about America...

Now, I am in America thinking about England. Not for the first time in my life.

When I was a boy, I remember my dad always had this book on his bedside table and I would never miss an opportunity to duck into his room to take a look at it, wondering what the story was, mesmerized by the woman on the cover. Every detail was like a mystery to me, from the lettering to the dark orange of the spine, from that Peguin logo to the vast and rather daunting array of words inside. Those red stockings she's wearing. Also that canvas and those paints she carries with her. But most of all I used to wonder where she was looking and what shw was looking at. Who did she see in that unseen sunset? Always, it made me nervous holding that book in my hands.